Will the Legacy of Covid Be a Turning Point for Kids?

Let’s all close our eyes and envision a time where all the public schools were closed.

Adults in public education were clamoring and captured by fear, anxiety, and lacked leadership to know what to do.

Parents are calling and emailing teachers, schools, and districts. Days turned into weeks and no replies were sent to provide direction.

Families within communities started calling each other. They wanted to share stories and were asking one another for support.

It was in these conversations that it was soon discovered that some families were getting support from their specific schools. Their sons and daughters were receiving new content, grading, and access to a credentialed teacher. Where traditional education had stepped back into silence leaving their communities reeling, a group of public charter schools had stepped forward in this moment. Welcome to non-classroom-based public charter schools in California. Yes, the term is purposely confusing and doesn’t address who these schools are, who they serve, or the programming and success they are having, especially during a global pandemic.

In California, there are two ways for public schools to receive funding for students. One is when a traditional or public charter school has students in a facility five days a week. Students merely sitting in a seat generate ADA for just showing up. Second, there is non-classroom-based, or independent study, where a learning contract is signed by the parent/guardian, student, and teacher. This sets the expectations for learning and holds all parties accountable. The credentialed teacher assigns work, tracks progress, and meets with the student to ensure that learning is happening. When the credentialed teacher reports learning, the ADA is generated for that student’s public education.

One funding model rewards just showing up, and the other for actual student learning. As a taxpayer, I want all public entities held accountable for the use of public resources. When it comes to charter public schools offering non-classroom-based programming, I have a stronger assurance that dollars are being spent appropriately on a student for their public education.

In the summer of 2020, the state legislature and governor had a very open discussion and decided to only fund traditional schools and made the harmful decision to not fund the substantial growth that had happened in non-classroom-based charter schools. Remember, this is where thousands of students had gone when their traditional neighborhood schools didn’t know what to do and were not serving their students for weeks. What did the governor and legislature do with the student’s ADA funding? They sent it to the traditional schools no longer serving these students. This gave non-classroom-based charter public schools two options; ask the new students to leave and fail them again, or keep them enrolled and use their small reserves and borrow money to serve them well.

At The Classical Academies, we enrolled 1,200 new students in the month of June and July while the legislature and governor were making public statements leading us to believe that every student would have funding for their public education. These 1,200 students represented $10 million dollars in funding to be used for their academic program. When the news came that the legislature and governor had cut a deal that left us to fend for ourselves, we had two choices. We could either sit back and accept their view of public education where some students are valued, and others are not, or we could step forward and seek a solution from the courts.

On September 24, 2020, we filed a class-action lawsuit against the State of California. Our belief was the state broke its agreement with public schools by changing the rules on how children are funded at charter schools after enrollment decisions were made. In doing so, we view that California is refusing to fund newly enrolled students at any of the 310 non-classroom-based public charter schools serving 200,000 students. This represents 30% of the public charter schools in the state and speaks to an intentional attack on students, parents, and public education by adults that are influenced by organizations that represent adults for the benefit of adults.

As we all begin to see the signs of COVID-19 beginning to fade in the Golden State, and the majority of public education still idling at the starting gate, parents are given a choice. Do they settle for the status quo at the hands of adults still struggling to elevate the needs of students first, or do they demand from their state, region, and local community to expand educational choice for the benefit of their children? One thing I know for sure is that our lawsuit has been groundbreaking as the judge in our case certified our class-action status: a first in the nation for charter public schools. This act alone gives us hope that the intentional actions of state leaders to harm children will be discussed in court, arguments will detail the abuse, and a judge’s ruling will set precedent, so it doesn’t happen again.

Charter public schools continue to have a positive impact on the communities they are fortunate to serve. What was revealed during the pandemic was just how unprepared traditional public education was to innovate, change, and connect with students in a meaningful way. It also showed us that where parents had access to non-classroom-based charter schools in California, these programs became magnets for enrollment. Why would politicians seek the demise of these schools in their funding decisions when students were succeeding? I believe it is tied directly to the fact that these programs, teachers, and school leaders were making the traditional school system look bad. How dare these schools serve students well and stay true to their purpose in elevating academics first! Our class-action case will be in front of a judge in July and I have every hope we will prevail. I have no doubt that with a court win the state will appeal. Why would they when California has record revenue and money to spare? Politicians hate to be wrong, most never admit error, and a majority of those interacting with public education carry the water of organizations with a history of putting adults and their needs first. These activities keep public education from embracing this moment where everything can be changed for the betterment of all students.

The fertile ground has been prepared by this pandemic. The steps we collectively take next will lead to a harvest of opportunity or another season of excuses of why change isn’t possible. We owe it to all students to review this past year and remove all the roadblocks so that all students become better thinkers, communicators, and achievers. Will the legacy of these past 14 months be what was best for adults, or a turning point in public education where we step forward for the betterment of every student, so they are served with distinction and their individual needs are met like those students enjoying non-classroom based programming?

Cameron Curry is the Chief Executive Officer for The Classical Academies, an organization of award-winning, tuition-free, public charter schools serving 4600+ students in grades TK-12 in North San Diego County. Curry also serves on the board of the California Charter Schools Association and serves as commissioner for the California Department of Education Advisory Commission for Charter Schools (ACCS). For more information about The Classical Academies, visit www.classicalacademy.com