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May 15, 2019

3 min

Dr. Jessica Spallino

The Disenfranchising of California Families

I grew up in a strict Democratic household. So severe in fact, that anyone who did not share the same beliefs was left to feel moderately or even extremely uncomfortable in our home. We represented the working class and with my father as an impassioned union steward, we closely aligned ourselves to the disadvantaged and our mission was to fight for the underdog and always work to ensure equal opportunities for all.

Though at times I felt my father’s treatment to those with opposing values was often extreme, I’ve lived most of my life aligned quite closely to them. Only as I’ve further developed professionally have I begun to see just how politicized efforts can be in the name of creating equal opportunities.

My father represented many individuals throughout his career as union steward, and I can remember more often than not, the primary focus of the case revolved around growing tension and struggle between my father and the organization. Rarely did I hear much about the individual being represented in the case. The focus became more about the power struggle and securing positions than about what was best for those that needed representation. I remember my father would often have to pull himself out of a nasty power struggle to conduct a reality check on what was actually right for those he was supposed to be representing, rather than simply proving something to his opponent.

I am seeing a similar struggle and disservice to the individuals needing representation in the charter school world today. In this case, the students and families are those needing representation and those representing are traditional public school districts, charter schools, and unfortunately, parties on either side of the political divide. Through the notion of school choice, which I believe is a fundamental Democratic principle, some students have been choosing to attend schools other than their geographically assigned school. These students and families have chosen alternative educational options for a variety of reasons, which are all not only within their natural rights, but within their preference and in many cases, need.

The integration of school choice within the traditional schooling framework, has introduced the concept of competition within the field of education. Each has responded to this competition in a different way. Though not perfect, charter schools have enjoyed some limited space within the environment along with the pure joy to serve students of all backgrounds in unique and unprecedented ways that are clearly in demand in today’s educational space. Some traditional public schools, including the teachers’ unions, have stuck to the ways they know how to successfully serve students, and have responded by claiming charter schools are the cause of inequitable compensation and resources within their schools. Some politicians , particularly in California, have utilized their positions to introduce Assembly Bills to ensure limitations to charter schools become law.

In many cases, these various responses to school choice has become nothing more than an uniformed and politicized power struggle, much like my father’s as a union steward. So much blame, misinformation and lack of understanding has fueled a battle that does not at all consider the student and their inherent right to choose.

This exercise of choice demonstrates a pure characteristic of a democratic society as one that offers many benefits to its citizens and gives them freedom to make choices about their lives, to develop their potential as human beings and to live free from fear, harassment and discrimination. The continuous attempts to limit freedom of choice, based on declining revenue of an educational modality that no longer successfully serves all students, restricts students from this inherent Democratic right. The Democratic politicians who have authored many of the bills that minimize choice and school options directly contradict the party’s principles from which they identify and demonstrate a power struggle that has little to do with what the actual individual wants and needs. It is all of our responsibilities to represent and serve the individual, and refrain from power struggles that only further our own causes.

We are no longer serving a student population from many years ago. Students today need and prefer all the different modalities and choices of education that the industry can provide. It's up to all of us to meet that challenge, and who knows, maybe even work together to do so.

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