CharterFolk Reggie Lee – The Hits Keep Coming!

Good morning, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Reggie Lee, the proud Oakland dad of two children and chair of the board of directors at Yu Ming Charter School, a National Blue Ribbon School and the top performing school in Alameda County. Yu Ming is a member of the Families in Action for Quality Education coalition.

I provide a brief bio below.

Reggie Lee is a parent of both a first grade and a third grade student. He is a parent-elected board member, and part of the Equity Design Team at Yu Ming. In his professional life, Reggie is an experienced Regional Manager in the chemicals industry. He graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor’s degree in History.

A special thanks to Reggie for writing this CharterFolk Contributor Column, as it underscores the importance of submitting comments on the regulations. Reggie’s story highlights the fact the U.S. Department of Education’s truly terrible proposed new rules and regulations could make it impossible for an existing charter school to simply change its address in addition to making it nearly impossible for community leaders to start new charter schools. Click here to submit your comments by Wednesday, April 13. Remember, 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. Don’t forget to link this to your social media.

Reggie, thank you again for your post, which makes these horrible regulations come to life in a palpable way, allowing everyone to get a clear picture of what these new burdens will mean for charter schools across the country. Let’s get to Reggie’s story!

The Hits Keep Coming!

In 2019, the California Teachers Association was the top spending lobby for a new law to choke off growth of charter public schools. One of their biggest accomplishments — if it can be called that — was new language in that law, called AB1505, which gave authorizers the power to reject new and expanding charter public schools based on the possibility that there might be some fiscal impact or community impact in the local district. That reasonable-sounding language cloaks the ability to deny nearly any charter.

What a sad development for families like mine who are audacious enough to seek an excellent free public education. My wife and I have been thrilled to watch our multiracial children become fluent in Mandarin at Yu Ming, a charter public school in Oakland. We are especially proud to see how our son with unique learning needs has flourished with the support provided by the incredible team and personalized learning approach at Yu Ming.

As a parent, I saw the political struggles the school was having with simple things like renewals and facilities and chose to get involved. I became board chair in 2020 and the political hits have kept coming. Our National Blue Ribbon School seems to be particularly intimidating for local teachers’ unions who are more concerned about clinging to the past than welcoming an innovative, equitable and excellent public education model to the neighborhood.

This journey of political insanity recently peaked when the CTA pressured county board members to deny our simple address change. An address change? Pretty mundane, right? Wrong. 

What we found was that the AB1505 charter law was just the beginning. The overreach and overinterpretation of the 2019 law have been stunning. While AB1505 allows fiscal and community impact considerations for NEW charter petitions and for expansions, that logic appears to be the justification for denying our address change — a step beyond what the law allows.

Lessons Learned In My Journey Through The County School Board Bureaucracy: 

Quality is not king. Equity is not king. Political power is king. 

Make sure your school has it. Make sure you are investing proactively in building political influence and with as big of a coalition you can muster.

Laws like AB1505 to “limit” growth are actually vehicles to protect interest groups like CTA and eliminate charter schools. 

These laws are being overused and misinterpreted so that the status quo of mediocre schools is maintained. If our school, which is in the top .8% of all public schools in California can’t get an address change because of “fiscal impact” I’m not sure how any charter school gets anything done.

Fight early, fight hard, fight loud. 

Charter school leaders and communities seem to be a quiet and orderly bunch. We seem to think political players will just “do the right thing” and we keep finding out we are wrong.

Oppose the federal regulations on charter schools with all your heart. 

If the proposed federal regulations are enacted, we continue down the road of using regulations to stop quality schools. We must oppose how the new charter law is being misused in California and ensure our children’s futures are not put at risk. 

The hits will keep coming. Let’s step up with a new play.