Good morning, CharterFolk!
Today we are pleased to share a Contributor Column from Malka Borrego, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Equitas Academy Charter Schools.
I provide a brief bio below.
Malka Borrego is the founder and chief executive officer of the Equitas Academy Charter Schools. The network was founded in 2009 and provides quality education with the mission of college graduation for all students in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Malka entered the teaching profession shortly after college graduation. She has worked in educational research at the UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation (CRESST) and in the nonprofit sector at the Long Beach YMCA as the Operations Director for an after-school literacy program. She was able to continue her interest in literacy with her work at Families in Schools as the Director of Family Literacy and provided leadership as the Executive Director for The Salvation Army-Alegria, an emergency, transitional, and permanent housing program for families with HIV/AIDS. Malka entered the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, a rigorous, year-long training program in charter school management to successfully integrate her non-profit management and teaching experience. She earned a BS in Sociology from Pomona College and an MA in Social Science from Stanford University’s School of Education.
We want to thank Malka for writing this column, and doing so quickly, so we could share it with CharterFolk before the April 13, 2022 deadline for comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s truly terrible proposed new rules and regulations that would make it nearly impossible for community leaders to start new charter schools. Malka’s story underscores the importance of submitting comments on the regulations. Click here to submit your comments by Wednesday, April 13. All comments are helpful, but the ones with the greatest potential for impact are customized ones that cite and focus on specific passages from the proposed regulations. Please read my top 10 reasons for submitting comments and feel free to use specific language you can cut and paste directly into your comments.
Again, a special thanks to Malka for providing such a thought-provoking post. Let’s get straight to it!
Equitas Shall Not Be Denied! AB1505 and New Proposed Federal Regulations Attempt to Deny Quality Options to Families Who Need Them Most
As a charter school leader, I have had the privilege to found six schools in the Pico Union community of Los Angeles, CA where I was born and raised. Approximately 15% of our community members have a college degree, and we are directly changing this by delivering on our promise of academic excellence and life preparation with 70% of our founding students in colleges today. Our newest proposed school, Equitas Academy (EQ7), will provide opportunities to build on a blended learning K-12 model. To realize these goals, we brought a new petition to our authorizer, the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The details of our charter intake are important to note and unlike any I have experienced in my 15 years in the charter school movement. I share these details with you as it has become apparent to me that AB1505 and the new community impact report requirements are causing great changes in our charter landscape. Here is our story.
We had waited over a week to get a response from the district and were assigned an appointment for intake that was postponed three times before we could submit. The date provided was the last day in the window to get board approval to open for the upcoming school year. I was required to attend a pre-meeting to review the checklist, and our letter of intent was reviewed by district staff. Then, LAUSD met with us on March 30 via Zoom to review the District’s intake process. In that meeting, LAUSD staff placed us on hold because they said they could not access our due diligence through their on-line system. After deliberating for more than six hours in a Zoom meeting, we learned the District staff evaluated the EQ7 Petition and what they perceived as the insufficiency of the petition. We submitted hundreds of pages of documentation, involving an enormous amount of our staff time and expense. To meet the new requirements in the Community Impact Assessment (CIA), we researched 150 schools within a three-mile radius of our new private facility and included each of the school’s enrollment, programs, website, and academic standing (much of our time cutting and pasting this publicly available information in the document). Ultimately, LAUSD staff notified us via a Zoom meeting at 7:30 pm that in the District staff’s opinion, a portion of the supporting Community Impact analysis was not to the staff’s liking, so they deemed the CIA incomplete and by extension the entire EQ7 Petition incomplete. Therefore, according to LAUSD staff, the EQ7 petition was not received, and we are ineligible to petition to open a school this upcoming school year. As we know, this position contradicts the statutory mandate that governs charter petitions.
As I have been a part of charter intakes many times, I share this story as I believe this is part of a bigger story happening for charters in Los Angeles and possibly across the country. The language in AB1505 is now open to abuse by authorizers seeking any means necessary to hold back parents from getting the better option they want. Secondly, I would connect AB1505 to the proposed new federal regulations from the U.S. Department of Education for upcoming Charter Schools Programs (CSP) grants. I see a similar harmful pattern of preventing new schools from opening. There are increased burdensome standards, forcing bureaucratic and duplicative reporting, and processes that can override state law and blatantly put the financial needs of school districts first over the needs of students in the community. Most importantly, we are ignoring the needs and demand of parents who want charter schools to serve their kids with a high-quality education in their community. We have experienced an attack on charter schools, and our story is one of many that our charter community will continue to experience. I share my story because what happened to us, is happening to our families, and we stand with them in their right to school choice and strong educational opportunity. Equitas is committed to serving our community, and we will get our students the schools they need. One way or another, working together with other CharterFolk in Los Angeles, across California, and nationally, Equitas shall not be denied.
We all have a key role to play in what is happening right now. I encourage us to tell each other our stories so we see the patterns and politics at play. I ask you to get involved in advocacy at the national level. And I ask you to check in on each other as we navigate these attacks on us and our communities that have the right to exist and grow and flourish.