Educational choice is essential in the era of COVID-19

As school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego have announced their continued closure through the coming fall semester, I am one of many concerned parents who fear this trend could spread statewide. The communities I represent in the First Assembly District overwhelmingly depend on schools to provide meals, care and a safe place for our children, and our region is not alone in this.

Megan Dahle

What’s more concerning is that the arguments driving the school closure debate are focused more on politics than actual science and what’s in the best interest of students. As such, it has never been more important for educational options to abound for parents.

For many students in the North State, the reality is that the local public school is their only option. Our students have some of the highest Adverse Childhood Experiences scores in the state. In eight of the nine counties I represent, the number of students that qualify for free and reduced-price meals at school ranges between 50 and 70 percent of all students, and they live in frontier areas. There are no daycare facilities, and access to broadband is spotty for some, and nonexistent for most. The local public school is the life source for these students, and our communities cannot afford to do without them through the coming fall semester.

Furthermore, CDC data seems to demonstrate the risk of reopening schools is worth the reward of preventing learning loss, as children under the age of 18 are far less likely to contract the virus and fatality rates are extremely low. Even fears that kids will transfer the virus to adults are starting to be dispelled based on preliminary research from reopened schools across Europe. Despite these facts, teachers’ unions like UTLA have succeeded in strong-arming some districts into closures with politically motivated demands like banning charter schools. This is entirely contrary to what the state ought to be doing, which is expanding educational choice for parents.

If the option of returning to public school is going to be held hostage by teachers’ unions across the state, parents need viable alternatives like charter schools. Many have been incredibly successful in transitioning to distance learning and combining blended learning models that parents are desperate for. As a result of the flexibility they offer, many charters have seen especially high numbers of new applicants in the months immediately following Newsom’s March 19 stay at home order. But slots have been increasingly limited due to years of Democrat policies systematically restricting parental choice.

Some of the most recent examples of this include:

  • AB 1505 (2019) gave further power to school districts to deny charter applications and enacted a temporary moratorium on non-classroom-based charters.
  • AB 1507 (2019) added arbitrary location restrictions that limit where charter schools can operate.
  • SB 98 (2020) enacted hold harmless provisions that cap K-12 average daily attendance at 2019-20 levels, unfairly punishing schools that have operated successful programs and attracted new students during COVID-19, many of which will be charter schools.

Governor Newsom has approved each of these bills that edge charters further out of the picture, and with them, many viable options for students. Now, with a pandemic on his hands, widespread public school closures, and parents becoming desperate for educational choice, it appears the chickens have come home to roost.

Now is the time for the state to correct its course. Any decisions regarding the reopening of schools this fall should be regional, taking into account that not all communities have been affected the same by the pandemic. It should not be up to the political whims of teachers’ unions to decide if public schools should open in the fall, but rather local leaders in concert with community stakeholders.

Charters should receive equitable funding on par with public schools and be promoted as the viable option that they are. Whether parents feel comfortable sending their kids back to school or not, they deserve options.

Assemblywoman Megan Dahle represents the 1st Assembly District in the California Legislature that includes, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra and Siskiyou counties and portions of Butte and Placer counties.