Black Folks Can Barely Access District Choices. That's Why I Fight for My Grandson's California Charter.

Jul 10, 2019 12:00:00 AM

by Christina Laster

This Wednesday, the California Senate’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill that would make local school districts the primary authority saying yes or no to charter schools. As a mother and grandmother, I am speaking out to defend my community’s ability to access free, quality public charter schools.

We know that seven out of eight Black public school children attend district-run schools. According to 2018 state assessments, [pullquote]80% of California’s Black children can't do math on grade level and 68% can't read or write on grade level. Meanwhile, low-income Black and Latino children in California’s public charter schools are learning more than their peers in traditional, district-run schools.[/pullquote] These are the results. That’s why Black parents like me have turned to tuition-free, public charter schools.

Across the state, Black leaders, and more importantly, Black parents, know this is the case. That’s why I was joined at the governor’s office by a host of leaders and parents, including: Pastor Tecoy Porter, President of NAN Sacramento, Reverend Jonathan Moseley, President of NAN Los Angeles, Cassandra Jennings, President and CEO of Greater Sacramento Urban League and Joette Spencer Campbell, charter school grandparent and leader of Concerned African American Parent Alliance San Bernardino. 

As Black parents and grandparents, we do not view the magnet, cluster and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) programs within district-run schools as viable choices for the majority of our children. Historically, many of our children have been denied access to these programs. 

As a child, I was able to attend a magnet school as a GATE student in a community outside my neighborhood. Every day, I caught the bus to LaJolla, a wealthy area within San Diego County. I remember very clearly being the only black student in all of my classes at every grade level. 

Today, 35 years later, that same La Jolla elementary school still has fewer than 30 black students: not even enough to report as a subgroup on the California Dashboard. 

Later, I worked for 13 years as an educator within the San Diego Unified School District, teaching early childhood education and special education. When I realized that our students, including my own children, were suffering terribly to no avail, I resigned and sought other options. I was able to find a free, quality public charter school for my own children, which supported three different learning modalities. 

[pullquote position="right"]Free, public charter schools have offered us and our children generational hope.[/pullquote] Eliminating, hindering or limiting those great public school options would create hopelessness for us and our children. This hopelessness sets a stage to only expect future social systemic issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, where I currently fear my own 7-year-old grandson will fall victim if he’s forced into failing schools.

The California Teachers Association strongly supports the current effort to restrict charter schools. The bill would allow factors other than student achievement—namely, school district budgets—to drive a district’s decision to deny a charter school. 

I strongly object to the teacher union’s motive: to force my grandson into a failing school just to balance school district budgets. That’s not about his education. It’s about the money he generates for the school district when enrolled in a district-run school. 

I have decided to stand up and fight back. Today I empower other parents with facts. I assist and support them with making informed decisions and choosing the best quality education for their children.

Black students are depending on us to fight for them to receive a quality public education. I’m glad to be counted among the civil rights leaders who have answered the call.

This post originally appeared in the Riverside Press Enterprise as Defending My Community’s Access to Quality Public Charter Schools: Christina Laster.
Photo by Bennie Patterson.

Christina Laster

Christina Laster is a civil rights activist and humanitarian who serves as Director of Policy and Legislation for the National Parents Union. She is also the founder of the Inland Empire and San Diego Parent Unions, a former statewide community organizer with the California Policy Center, and a Black parent and grandparent in Southern California. Christina was formerly an executive committee member of the California Hawaii NAACP, the Education chairwoman and Youth Council advisor of Southwest Riverside County NAACP.

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