Soapbox

A quasi-private science school in L.A. is a terrible idea

Pine Grove STEM school student Alexis Castro, 11, holds a deer antler during Nature Bowl XXXII on the Sacramento State campus in May.
Pine Grove STEM school student Alexis Castro, 11, holds a deer antler during Nature Bowl XXXII on the Sacramento State campus in May. rbenton@sacbee.com

Teaching science, technology, engineering and math should be a priority for all school districts, especially where minority and poorer kids are underrepresented.

Assembly Bill 1217 is the wrong approach. The bill – which could be voted on by the Senate as soon as Tuesday – was shoehorned into the legislative process at the last moment by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and Sen. Anthony Portantino of Los Angeles.

 
Opinion

The bill seeks to establish a new STEM school in Los Angeles that would siphon scarce local public education resources, augmented by promised philanthropic donations, to a private venture that stands outside school districts and county offices of education. It would be answerable only to a corporate governing board, with little accountability to parents or taxpayers.

Though on paper the school reports to the state superintendent of public instruction, no provisions allow the superintendent to intervene or close the school if problems arise. Nothing would stop board members from selling technology, software, hardware or curriculum for a profit to the school.

AB 1217 does not require fully credentialed teachers in every classroom. Lowering standards won’t serve students well.

The bill’s supporters hope to draw students from multiple school districts, undermining local control, and they made no effort to use existing ways to establish new schools. Support for STEM education should focus on investing in and scaling up the more than 140 public and charter schools already operating in Los Angeles County.

Growing opposition to AB 1217 includes educators, the PTA, the NAACP, school administrators, superintendents, school board members and organized labor.

One prominent backer has promised to help pay for the school. Public schools should be funded by tax dollars, and transparent and accountable to the public. Before going down the path of AB 1217, we should consider how it would distort future educational policy.

Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers and can be contacted at jpechthalt@cft.org. Dianna MacDonald is president of the state PTA and can be contacted at president@capta.org.

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