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Several years ago, the Walton Family Foundation and the Gates Foundation decided that it was not enough to open new charter schools. No, they had to devise mechanisms to make sure that school officials put charters on an equal footing with public schools and that the public didn’t care whether schools were run by their elected school board or a private board of directors.
The Gates Foundation created something called “the Gates Compact,” paying districts to treat public and charter schools the same.
The Waltons played a different angle. To advance their agenda of embedding charters and wiping out any differences between public schools and charter schools, they pushed for the adoption of a common enrollment form. The two sectors are intermingled, and neither students nor parents know which schools are public and which have private or corporate management.
In Oakland, where a slate of pro-public school parents won the last school board election, the board voted to eliminate the OneApp system.
Jane Nylund, a parent activist in Oakland, sent the following report:
Elections matter. In a complete turnaround to the common enrollment momentum that we have seen since 2015, our newly elected school board voted by 4-3 to pass the Enrollment Stabilization Policy, which eliminates the ability of OUSD to participate in marketing and supporting charter schools with our tax dollars. The policy ends the shared enrollment system put into place in 2015 by former superintendent Antwan Wilson, who had actively steered the district towards a common enrollment system. When the board voted it down, Antwan Wilson, undeterred, supported the implementation of an electronic school finder, Schoolmint, which combined both district and charter schools on a single platform, thus placing both types of schools on the same footing, which was the intent all along. Families searching for schools using their neighborhood zip codes, would often find charter schools at the top of their search feed, rather than the neighborhood school within their boundary.
Key point of the Enrollment Stabilization Policy: “This prohibition applies (but is not limited) to OUSD’s enrollment system, school maps, family guides and other enrollment materials, any OUSD website, OUSD facilities, enrollment fairs, and teacher recruitment events. Competing schools shall not be invited to participate in or be included in OUSD- or site-run recruitment fairs or OUSD- or site-run enrollment events or to recruit students on OUSD-operated campuses.”
For the first time, district legislation is acknowledging that marketing and competition vs. “quality” are the key strategies to the growth of charter schools in Oakland. While charter proponents have argued that the district is trying to “hide” “quality schools” and that families can pick whatever type they want (district, charter, or private), that’s not the reality of what families do. According to OUSD feeder patterns, it is clear that charters are marketed aggressively as “high quality” from the elementary schools onward and that elementary charter enrollment is the key to future charter school demand at the secondary level. Charter proponents have always known this and have relied on the “all charters are high-quality” tag line to sell this school model to families.
None of this would have happened without constant vigilance and involvement from teachers, as well as support from grassroots parents’ groups such as Parents United. For too long, charter schools have had it both ways: operate like a business with all the usual trappings, but pretend to be a public entity for purposes of revenue generation. If charters want to be in the education business using marketing and competition as proxies for authentic “achievement”, then they need to play by the rules of that game and find their own customer base using their own funds (our taxpayer dollars). While much work remains to be done to defeat privatization in Oakland, the days of feeding at the OUSD trough at the expense of our own district students are finally coming to an end.