• News Ticker alerts

At left: Buzz Woolley

Things don't seem to be going so well for the future of charter schools in California, what with news today, reported by the Sacramento Bee, that the federal government has pulled $11.5 million of funding to set up new California charter schools and could take away more.

According to the Bee, the U.S. Department of Education warned state education officials for months that they were not in compliance with requirements of the Charter Schools Program, providing funding for two- and three-year grants for new charter schools, because they didn’t pay enough attention to keeping track of student achievement.

The Bee quoted Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, as disputing the federal agency's findings: "In California we have a robust accountability system and are working to make it stronger. I don't think it is a reason to deny any portion of this grant."

In the meanwhile, a few wealthy San Diegans have been anteing up big money for future political efforts in the state capital on behalf of charter schools.

They are channeling their contributions through the Alliance of California Charter Schools, which state records show has set up both a political action committee and a separate independent expenditure committee.

According to state records, the PAC raised $52,625.28 during the first six months of this year. Local contributors included $6,500 each from Point Loma resident and cross-border real estate mogul Malin Burnham; La Jolla investor, philanthropist, and Voice of San Diego founder Buzz Woolley ; and CAC Advisory Services, run by Woolley ally and fellow charter schools advocate Rod Dammeyer.

CAC and Dammeyer were major financial backers of San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a political committee which also received significant funding from Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs.

That effort, opposed by the teachers union, foundered last month when the group was not able to collect sufficient signatures to qualify its controversial ballot measure to expand the school board, in part with appointed members.

In addition to his April 8 PAC contribution, on June 24 Woolley gave $25,000 to the charter school alliance’s independent expenditure committee. On the same day, CAC Advisory Services gave the committee $150,000.

The biggest donor of all was Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who contributed $493,500.

In all, the independent expenditure committee raised a total of $1,287,000.

  • News Ticker alerts


InOmbra Aug. 19, 2011 @ 11:17 a.m.

Finally, charter school failure to comply is being punished.

There are many ways that charter schools fail to comply. The Aug 15 & 22 2011 issue of The New Yorker has an interesting article on Michelle Bachmann, including her participation in founding a charter school in Stillwater, MN.

Bachmann and her followers feel that public schools exist only to indoctrinate children with anti-biblical dogma. Bachmann is a follower and student of Steven Wilkins (the Civil War was a "theological war" and slavery was a benevolent solution to caring for pagan Africans who couldn't care for themselves until they found god), David A. Noebel (a John Bircher homophobe who warns against America's greatest evil, the "secular humanist worldview"), and John Eidsmoe, whom Bachmann encountered when she attended law school at Oral Roberts University. Eidsmoe authored "Christianity and the Constitution," and Bachmann is proud of Eidsmoe's influence, openly advocating that American life should be "permeated with a distinctively Christian flavoring."

To set up the New Heights School charter, a publicly funded school, Bachmann and fellow boardmembers had to sign an agreement with the Stillwater School District, per Minnesota regulations for publicly funded schools, mandating that all charter school activities would be nonsectarian.

From the beginning, board minutes record evangelical, god-oriented plans for the curriculum and blatant violations of the nonsectarian agreement. Parents complained of classroom creationism teachings. Within 6 months, Bachmann and her friend, the school's CEO and evangelical activist, Dennis Meyer, resigned, under threat of charter revocation, and the school eliminated all religious elements from the curriculum.


Visduh Aug. 19, 2011 @ 2:49 p.m.

If only charter schools could deliver the education that their supporters claim to want. When the concept rolled out in California in the early- to mid-1990's, it seemed unbeatable. Schools, freed from the crushing mandates and bureaucracies of the state Education Code could concentrate on teaching, innovating, and reaching kids the regular schools miss.

The reality has been quite different. For every charter school that excels, there are dozens that achieve only mediocrity, and many end up mired in scandal. The governing boards, with their limited resources cannot find competent administrators and fall for charlatans who make lavish promises that cannot be kept. Or, worse yet, they hire some for-profit business to take over the day-to-day management of the school for a fat fee. Then the fee ends up in the pocket of some unqualified administrator who mismanages the school into failure. (Yes, this has happened many times, and in San Diego County.)

The motives of these wealthy backers of the charter school movement are suspect. Many just don't like the idea of public schools that must take all comers. But they also don't like the idea of having to pay the full cost of private or parochial schools. So a charter school that caters to them, yet is largely or fully paid for with public funds, is the goal.

In the near future we will see and hear more scandals involving this recent proliferation of charter schools. As those schools take enrollment away from the regular public schools, the job facing those schools becomes more demanding. As it now stands, the chartering school districts are ill-equipped to properly oversee the charters, and they generally operate with little control or public scrutiny of how public funds are spent.

But who suffers when a charter school fails to deliver? The kids who were supposed to be getting an education is who.


monaghan Aug. 19, 2011 @ 10:07 p.m.

Arne Duncan actually cracking down on charters? A welcome development and long overdue.

Please note that CA Charters Schools chief Jeb Wallace was a just a trainee in the front office at San Diego Unified under Superintendent Alan Bersin, paid with Gates Foundation money.


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader