Assemblyman Marc Levine took heat Friday from constituents who criticized him for being too supportive of charter schools. The comments came during a joint town hall meeting with state Sen. Mike McGuire.
By Richard Halstead | Marin Independent Journal
While a range of topics were discussed — including child care/preschool funding, opioid addiction, a third westbound lane on the Richmond bridge, prescription drug prices and the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan migrant girl in border patrol custody last week — it was the debate over charter schools that took center stage due to some aggressive questioning by three audience members.
About 150 people turned out for the morning meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel sponsored by the First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission.
Robin Goldman, the most confrontational of the three charter school critics, addressed her comments directly to Levine, D-Greenbrae.
“This morning I looked through your donor list, which includes the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA),” Goldman said. “You have consistently voted in accordance with CCSA and organizations trying to privatize education, which is what your constituents do not want.”
Heather Bennett, a member of Stand with Ross Valley Schools, also singled out Levine.
“We have written repeatedly to your offices and sent almost 500 letters recently through the Action Network urging you to pressure the California Department of Education to immediately require complete material revision of the Ross Valley Charter petition,” Bennett told Levine. “This charter is damaging our public school district. ”
Bennett also mentioned Levine’s acceptance of contributions from the Charter Schools Association, which she said has paid for lawsuits filed by Ross Valley Charter against the Ross Valley School District.
“The charters have rode(sp) roughshod over the state and they must be stopped,” Bennett said.
Another speaker, Allison Waugh, asked Levine and McGuire if they would support the call by the newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, Tony Thurmond, for a temporary ban on new charter schools. Waugh also asked the legislators what they would do to “address abuses of charter schools such as those outlined by the attorney general’s report of discrimination by the Sausalito Marin City School District.”
The state Attorney General’s Office notified the district Tuesday that it is in violation of anti-discrimination laws because Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City is a racially segregated school, according to a letter sent to the district by the Attorney General’s Office.
“I know there is concern about charter schools,” Levine said, “and I know a lot of that has been directed toward me.”
Levine said he has met with Ross Valley School District Superintendent Rick Bagley and district school board members and “followed up with them directly on their requests.”
“I have voted four times for legislation to ban for-profit charter schools,” Levine said.
Contacted after the town hall, Bagley wrote in an email that he and school president Anne Capron met with Levine last year.
“My impression is that Assemblyman Levine was already satisfied with his prior working knowledge of the issues and had more pressing priorities than public education, for his advocacy in Sacramento,” Bagley wrote.
During the town hall, Levine urged Marin charter school critics to take a broader view.
“Let’s not look at this issue purely through a Marin lens,” he said. “We know in Marin we have amazing school districts that have amazing outcomes for most students. But if we look statewide that is not the same. People need a lifeline out of schools that don’t work in their community.”
McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said with the election of Thurmond and Gavin Newsom as governor, “I think you are going to see a change in the makeup of the state Board of Education.”
Levine agreed, “The charter authorization process is one that will be reformed, and it will be reformed fairly quickly.”
Looking at the bigger picture, McGuire said the state currently has about $15.9 billion in its rainy day fund and expects to begin the next fiscal year with a $4.5 billion surplus.
“We have liabilities though,” McGuire said.
Perhaps the biggest potential liability would be maintaining coverage for Californians covered by the Affordable Care Act should President Trump succeed in killing the program, he said.
McGuire said before the act was passed 17 percent of Californians were uninsured; today 7 percent are uninsured.
“We have to go a step beyond the Affordable Care Act,” Levine said. “California needs to lead the way in establishing Medicare for all.
“That is one of the biggest issues we’re going to be facing in Sacramento this coming year,” he said. “There are going to be several proposals that will be advanced.”
Levine said he remembered the pain of cutting programs during the Great Recession and cautioned that the state’s budget reserves could be wiped out within a year should the economy fall back into recession.