San Jose: Hundreds rally for charter schools amid scrutiny from Sacramento

With charter schools increasingly under scrutiny in Sacramento, hundreds of charter school families, dressed in purple, orange and green, rallied in downtown San Jose Friday to stand up for their rights.

The state Legislature is considering two bills, AB 1505 and AB 1507, which would further regulate charter schools. AB 1505 would repeal provisions allowing the state board to approve a petition to establish a charter school, leaving that power in the hands of local districts and county offices of education. AB 1507 would close a loophole that currently allows certain charter schools to establish a site outside the boundaries of the school district, but within the same county.

San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra is the principal coauthor of both bills. Representatives from his local office said they were not aware of the rally and declined to comment.

These two bills are the last survivors of a larger package that included more aggressive legislation that would have capped California charter schools at their current number and allowed districts to take into account a new school’s impact on their own finances before approving it.

These pending bills were mentioned by speakers at the rally, but much of the focus was on school choice while emphasizing that charter schools are still public schools.

“We believe that all schools should be great public schools,” said event co-chair Lety Gomez from Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep.

The rally — called “Stand With Great Public Schools” — included parents and advocates from Alpha Public Schools, Downtown College Prep, KIPP and Rocketship Public Schools.

“Growing up, I know that my parents didn’t have much choice. It was either the school across the street or nada,” said Deacon Ruben Solorio, president of Sacred Heart Nativity schools and father of two daughters who attended charter schools. “One of the things that helped with these public schools — these public charter schools — was to give our families a choice, just like many affluent families in our communities that get to choose between private schools, Catholic schools, Christian schools, Harker Academy, Stratford Academies and many choices they have.”

“Our elected representatives have attempted to make decisions on our schools without consideration of the tremendous academic achievement that our schools have accomplished,” said Anh Dao Tran, a parent from Alpha: Cornerstone Academy.

Mayor Sam Liccardo couldn’t attend, but voiced support for the charter schools in a pre-recorded message. “We know we’ve got a lot of fight ahead, but we’re confident because of your success,” Liccardo said in the message. “Because you have made KIPP and Alpha and Rocketship some of the best public schools in the entire state, that we can make the case to the rest of the state.”

Other dignitaries in attendance Friday included former Mayor Ron Gonzales and Santa Clara County Board of Education trustees Peter Ortiz and Grace Mah.

“At the end of the day, we all want to send our kids to schools that have the resources and the materials to create an environment where all our children can be successful,” Ortiz said. “When I ran for public office, I made a promise that I would continue to meet with all interested parties.”

Organizers ended the day with a call to action, asking parents in attendance to reach out to their representatives to stop the remaining bills from passing.

Contact Elizabeth Barcelos at ebarcelossj@gmail.com or follow @ebarcelossj on Twitter.

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