Pro-Charter March Greets Democratic Debate in Los Angeles

The Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools held a rally at the Westchester Recreation Center in Los Angeles.
The Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools held a rally at the Westchester Recreation Center in Los Angeles.

In the latest in a series of education-activist events tied to the Democratic presidential campaign, about 500 parents, teachers, students, and advocates gathered in Los Angeles to signal their support for charter schools.

The group, carrying the banner of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, gathered at the Westchester Recreation Center and marched roughly half a mile to Loyola Marymount University, where the leading Democratic presidential candidates were participating in a televised debate.

Howard Fuller, a distinguished professor of education at Marquette University and former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, said the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools was formed in July after Senator Bernie Sanders called for a ban on for-profit charter schools and a moratorium on federal funding for charter-school expansion. “We felt like there needed to be a response, and it needed to be led by black and brown people,” he said in an interview with Education Next. “We believe this issue of charter schools is an issue of self-determination.”

Fuller said that Democrats have left school-choice advocates no choice but to demonstrate.

The president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Action Network, Tecoy Porter, described charter schools as “a civil rights issue.” District schools, he says, “aren’t educating black and brown children well.” And, he adds, “whoever is going to be our candidate for the Democratic party needs to keep charter schools in the conversation and part of the educational solution.”

Howard Fuller at the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools rally in Los Angeles.
Howard Fuller at the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools rally in Los Angeles.

The education activists drew national attention in November when a group that included Fuller confronted Senator Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. Some parents also traveled to Pittsburgh, where the candidates had a town hall event on the topic of education; Senator Michael Bennet was the only one who met with them there.

Lety Gomez drove to Los Angeles from the San Francisco Bay Area to participate in this march. A mother of three who works at a church, Gomez said she is a registered Democrat but hasn’t yet decided on a candidate to support in the presidential contest.

“I grew up in East San Jose,” Gomez says. “The education system did not give me the opportunity to succeed. I tried to find better for my older two children, tried to find a better district, better schools, but the system also failed them.” For her youngest daughter, Gomez decided to pursue a charter alternative.

Gomez did attend college, though she said it took her “a while to get there” because she wasn’t prepared; she ended up “doing a business-school college” because she had to balance work and school as a young adult. For her daughter, though, she wants something different: “I want her to go to college because I feel that’s the opportunity for her to thrive.” Gomez said she hopes that attending a charter school will allow her daughter to “really succeed.”

Charter schools have such a strong word-of-mouth reputation among Southern California students that teenagers are asking their parents to enroll them. Angelina Arrey, a fifteen-year-old from San Bernardino County, said she found out about charter schools through friends. Arrey and Emily Stewart, another fifteen-year-old from San Bernardino County, both said that they were the ones who made the decision to attend charter schools—not their parents.

Dulce Macedo of Victorville, Calif., 17, a student at the Antelope Valley Learning Academy, said she has started classes at a local community college and plans to join the military and pursue nursing. “Charter schools aren’t just schools you can shut down,” Macedo adds. “They’re helping a lot of students.”

Melissa Fall is assistant managing editor of Education Next.

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