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Feature 07.29.2021 5 minutes

California’s Education Disaster

Bored schoolboy from online classes. Back to school. Tired of homework

Legislators insist that children go down with their sinking ship.

As pandemic-driven fear closed California schools in March 2020 and the state’s conventional public schools started foundering, California’s political class decided their own reputation was more important than parents or children. Millions of families milled around leaderless, trying to prevent the total loss of months of education for their children. They didn’t know how to get off the sinking ship, and the crew wouldn’t help them. 

Digital Disaster

“Distance learning” was the schools’ first attempt to keep students from fleeing. But it was completely inadequate to meet the educational needs of children accustomed to what we now quaintly call “live, in-person education.” Proactive parents throughout the system started looking for the emergency exit.

Small groups of families formed “pandemic pods”—groups of kids whose families were all healthy and who only met with each other, to do small-group live and online classes wherever they could be found. To the politicians’ chagrin, parents found useful classes everywhere. One of the richest new ecosystems in American culture is non-classroom-based K-12 education. Parents quickly learned that there are (always have been) a well-provisioned fleet of public charter schools in California that specialize in home and alternative education, with leadership and staff well-suited to providing and administering home education tailored to any student’s needs and learning style. 

Options include parent instruction, vendors who specialize in teaching live in small groups or individual instruction, and a variety of effective online offerings. The charter schools cover instructional costs as well as materials, for a fraction of what conventional public schools spend per student. Especially for parents who found themselves locked out of work and home with their kids anyway, it turned out for a lot of them that any of the available options would be better than the disaster that was public schools. 

But for educational “authorities,” the disaster wasn’t that the system was collapsing—it was that some of the kids had escaped before it came crashing down on their heads! 

Down with the Ship

In the summer of 2020, as parents abandoned conventional public schools en masse for home study and open on-campus charter schools, the California legislature seized all of the funding that should have followed those kids to their new schools, and gave it instead to the closed schools that they left. Public charter schools with thousands of new students had no corresponding funding. Litigation put only a partial end to this cruelty.

A year later, as California’s conventional public schools pretend to start thinking about getting ready to do a little in-person on-campus human interaction, the prospects for public school still look bleak. And parents are still moving out of conventional public schools into charters that enable real education. But teachers unions still are more concerned that home-study charters are rescuing those who have escaped, than that they need to escape or be rescued in the first place. In the state ranked #40 nationally in pre-K-12 education, the CTA lobby promotes the grave concern that students whose parents choose home education are at high risk of misusing state funding or inadequately educating their children.

So this summer, the California legislature is simply moving to close home study charter schools. Widespread political outcry over legislation against home study charters stopped the bill in the ordinary public process, so Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders huddled in secret to enact the same laws in the darkness. To the teachers unions and the politicians they control, this is “educational success.”

Let’s not forget what corrupt education leaders are destroying in order to cover their own failures. Home study charter schools have for decades served the disadvantaged, the gifted, and the struggling learners alike, along with everyone in between, with less funding than traditional public schools. Home study charter students generally outperform their peers in conventional public schools. Home study charters have also been a refuge from the increasingly obnoxious ideology that pervades conventional public schools. Parents do most of the work, with time and effort to customize education to our children. For the last several years, we have also spent a significant number of hours calling our legislators and making trips to the capitol in Sacramento to defend our right to work so hard in the education of our own children.

For a long time, home study charters were the realm of those who already didn’t want their kids at conventional public schools or who wanted to homeschool. In those days our educational oligarchs were content to leave us here, out of their hair. But once COVID closures hit, tens or hundreds of thousands of parents who were not previously inclined to homeschool and would have stayed in those failing schools discovered, out of need, that they have real alternatives. 

Homeschoolers are one of the few potent conservative political movements left in California, and we have held off the state educrats so far. But we need to be ready in case they do scuttle home study charters. We need to be ready to break free from the public system entirely, and found more of our own private schools. If the state won’t help us do the right thing by our children, we are going to have to do it ourselves.

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