State Assemblyman Marc Levine got an earful recently from critics of the charter school in the Ross Valley School District.
They asked him to push for reforms in the state’s charter school program, but also pointedly noted that the lawmaker has taken large donations from charter proponents and has supported charter-friendly legislation.
With the recent election of Gavin Newsom as governor and Tony Thurmond as state superintendent of public instruction, reforms to the state charter school program are likely.
However, some of the state’s support for charter schools is written into voter-approved laws.
Levine, who has publicly kept his distance from the divisive battle between the district and the Ross Valley Charter School — a former longtime district program that was spun into a charter school — says he has focused on the program from a statewide perspective.
In fact, statewide, charter schools have boomed.
In Marin, local opposition has limited charter schools to only a handful and two of them, Ross Valley Charter School and Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito, have been the source of controversy.
In fact, Ross Valley Charter School was authorized by the state after both the district and the county refused to approve it.
The charter school, now at White Hill School in Fairfax, is a multi-grade program that many parents prefer over the traditional grade-level program. It was a mainstay in the district for many years. But amid rumblings that the program would be canceled, parents and supporters, including two former school board trustees, formed the charter school.
Its critics have waged a divisive political campaign against the charter and have written 500 or so letters urging Levine to pressure the state Department of Education to take a new look at its support for the Ross Valley Charter.
Levine could play a greater role in trying to bring peace to the controversy surrounding Ross Valley Charter, but his acceptance of contributions from statewide charter supporters doesn’t exactly promote confidence from charter critics.
That’s Levine’s choice. He makes that choice when he decides whose contributions he will accept.
But Levine is right that some of the controversies over charter schools require a statewide viewpoint. There are differences between charter schools formed in poorly performing districts and those created in districts that have stronger academic records.
Levine said at the forum: “People need a lifeline out of schools that don’t work in their community.”
There are valid questions about public oversight of how taxpayers’ money is being used. In some cases, compliance with the state’s open meetings laws has not been stellar. Also, some districts have found approval of charters, sometimes outside of the districts’ boundaries, to be a money-maker.
Levine says he has voted for bills that would ban for-profit charter schools.
Critics at the recent town hall meeting want more from him.
He was an easy target, given his acceptance of donations and his support for charter-favored bills.
How Levine is going to navigate the coming debates over reform should be worth keeping track of. The public deserves to know how he is voting on legislation that addresses criticism of charter schools and his support for the concept.