How We Overcome The Educational Pickleball Challenge

Good day, CharterFolk.

I swear.

Sometimes I struggle to make sense of things.

Have you seen this one?

A wealthy woman in San Francisco who is trying to get rid of public pickleball courts in her area …

… owns a mansion on the market for $36 million that …

… literally …

… has a pickleball court in the backyard.

Her argument is that the thwacking sounds of paddles hitting balls represents a kind of noise pollution that endangers area wildlife.

Literally.

So …

I mean … CharterFolk …

What sense are we supposed to make of something like this?

On the one hand, she’s the very definition of a NIMBY.

Or would it be more accurate to call her a NPIMBY?

You know …

A “No Pickleball in My Back Yard-er?”

But then, she literally has pickleball in her backyard.

So what does that make her?

A YPIMLBY but NPIMFBY?

A “Yes Pickleball in My Literal Back Yard But No Pickleball in my Figurative Back Yard-er?”

Or is she just a IGPIM$36MDBYASATROYWWPAE?

You know.

One of those “I Get Pickleball in MY $36 Million Dollar Back Yard And Screw All The Rest Of You Who Want Pickleball Anywhere Else-ers?”

Hmmm.

In terms of finding a workable acronym here, I confess to feeling in a bit of a pickle.

Speaking of pickles.

Have you seen the one that the head of teacher union in Chicago has gotten herself into?

Literally, CharterFolk.

Literally.

You can’t make this up.

After days of making no comment about news reports, she confirmed it.

She sends her own kid to a private school.

Literally

This is the same person who just a couple weeks ago …

… literally called supporters of school choice fascists who never intended for Black people to be educated and should be kept off the school board at all costs.

Do you have concerns about school-choice and privatization supporters running for the school board, and a strategy to oppose that? 

Yes, we are concerned about the encroachment of fascists in Chicago. We are concerned about the marginalization of public education through the eyes of those who’ve never intended for Black people to be educated. So we’re going to fight tooth and nail to make sure that type of fascism and racism does not exist on our Board of Education.

Literally.

So …

I mean … CharterFolk …

What sense are we supposed to make of something like this?

On the one hand she’s saying that people who exercise school choice are fascists … right?

And yet, she literally exercises school choice herself.

So … is this her way of coming out as a fascist?

Meanwhile, she says that supporters of private education never intended for Black people to be educated … right?

But then she enrolled her son in a private school.

So … does that mean she doesn’t intend for him to get educated?

And she wants to keep fascists off the school board … right?

But then she has more access to Brandon Johnson than any other person in Chicago.

So, does that mean she doesn’t want fascists on the school board, but she’s cool with them being in the mayor’s office?

Hmmm.

You think …

… she plays pickleball?”

A Useful New Frame

Sadly, pickleball dynamics are ones that CharterFolk grapple with on an ongoing basis.

At least moments like this provide a useful new frame for thinking about our work.

You remember those people in Connecticut I wrote about in my first post after the Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action?

They live in school districts where their kids get to go to good schools, but then show up at school board meetings …

… to deny kids outside the district access to those very same schools.

They’ve got courts in their backyards and then work to deny others access to courts everywhere else.

What do we call them?

Yup.

Pickleballers.

Educational Pickleballers.

It is fitting that the term would have found its origins in California.

We’ve got paddlers across the state, thwacking away in a variety of realms.

Last summer, you may remember that there was big uproar about UC Berkeley having to rescind offers to new students because a recent court decision had stopped the construction of new student housing.

A couple of weeks later indignant state policy makers rode to the rescue, creating an exception to the monstrous regulations that they themselves had made.

But then a few months later, a new lawsuit shut down the Berkeley student housing project yet again.

What was the NIMBYist’s argument this time?

Call it “the pickleball defense.”

Not to be confused with the “twinkie defense” …

… which also had its origins in the Bay Area …

… where the lawyers defending the murderer of Harvey Milk convinced the court that their client’s excessive consumption of spongey junk food made him do it.

In the Berkeley student housing case, the pickleball defense actually convinced the court …

… that student noise is a form of ecological contamination.

Literally.

And given that the project proposed no mitigation plan, it was tabled.

Thwack!!

And as laughable as that might seem, it’s an idea that has actually gained currency. Last month a housing project next to USC was stopped using the precedent that was established in Berkeley.

Thwack!

It’s when opposition to supposed noise pollution becomes noise pollution itself.

The Nemesis

The nemesis enabling all this, of course, is CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which imposes so many supposedly eco-friendly requirements on constructions projects, and offers so many opportunities for NIMBYists to stop projects through the filing of never-ending lawsuits, that few ever get built.

It’s essentially the leverage that gives pickleballers their standing in court.

And the consequences are anything but funny.

This study from a couple months ago …

… demonstrated that over 48,000 housing units, more than half of the state’s new home supply in 2020, were challenged by CEQA lawsuits, leading to disproportionate impact on low income people of color and young people seeking improved housing options. It’s the main reason California hasn’t come remotely close to building the number of new homes Gavin Newsom promised during his campaign.

It’s a level of regulatory morass so debilitating that it blocked the state’s effort to remodel its own capitol building …

… creating a metaphor for so much of public life in California.

Half demolished …

… and bogged down in quagmire.

The Educational Pickleball Challenge

Some CharterFolk readers may remember that I have written several times …

… about how charter adversaries have changed California charter school law to create CEQA-like mechanisms meant to choke off the growth of charter schools

Just like builders are forced to create massive Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) that can be challenged in court for the most ludicrous reasons, charter school developers in California are now forced to submit Community Impact Reports (CIRs) that can be similarly challenged.

The first school I wrote about being subject to the new CEQA-like requirements was Mayacamas Charter School.

It’s been a long and winding legal road for Mayacamas, with the deepest-pocketed protectors of the status quo supporting legal challenges at every step in the process.

Thwack!!

Call it the full-pickleball-court-press.

It leads to a circumstance where, like it can’t even remodel its own capitol building without getting bogged down in court, so too the State of California can’t even approve a charter school on appeal.

But showing absolutely amazing resiliency, the founders of Mayacamas were actually able to get over the educational pickleball challenge and to open their school …

… though it’s long-term survival hangs in the balance.

Member of the Public #1

Last week a new hearing was scheduled where the local school district’s superintendent sent an email out to 16,000 parents excoriating the founders of Mayacamas and beseeching parents and employees to show up in person at the hearing and spread the district’s vitriol.

And who, of all people in the state, was Member of the Public #1, the person who had called in early enough to be the first to address the board?

Jerry Brown.

Just like he was Member of the Public #1 addressing the State Board when Mayacamas brought their appeal to the state.

Jerry Brown knows the challenges that charter school developers face. He himself proposed two new charter schools when he was Mayor in Oakland ….

… only to see one get rejected by the local school district …

… forcing him to appeal all the way to the state board where ultimately he prevailed.

Brown knows the odds we’re up against.

He knows that California’s recent changes in charter school law foreclose the state playing the same role in the Mayacamas appeal that it played for his school. And he has seen in recent weeks how a school modeled after his military academy in Oakland was forced to close despite his support for the school, due in part to the new powers local authorizers have to shut down charter schools.

And yet, he forges on, Member of the Public #1.

Supporting the creation of the new things the public needs.

Just like all Members of the Public #1 are not giving up and continue to propose the new things the public needs.

New charter schools.

Student housing.

Housing of all types.

Pickleball courts where all can play

And in so doing, we make transparent the most abhorant things.

The way pickleballers will treat parents simply seeking an opportunity to get their own kids access to a court.

Not just excoriating the Mayacamas parents in an open email going out to 16,000 households as the local school district superintendent did a couple weeks ago, but actually suggesting that Mayacamas parents should be investigated for the financial contributions they have made to a nonprofit supporting the school, as district staff did at a recent hearing.

Literally, CharterFolk.

It happens everywhere we have Members of the Public #1 push the public system to allow charter schools to grow.

Educational pickleballers saying the most offensive things.

Like the school board member in Los Angeles who recently referred to charter schools as “a cancer.”

Literally.

Or the Texas legislator who called us a “virus.”

Literally.

They’re the kinds of comments that lead all of society to say:

Hmm.

I swear …

What sense are we supposed to make of this?

How We Ultimately Prevail

Ultimately, in getting the ball back on the pickleballers’ side of the court, we force them to thwack again.

And that is when they end up saying the patently offensive things that discredit themselves in front of others.

Because look, I’m fully aware that a simple shaming of the NPIMBYists will never win them over.

But we’re at a moment when smart observers are recognizing that YIMBYs are picking up steam …

… like writers such as Matthew Yglesias who are deeply keyed into the pickleball dynamics that govern public education.

From my perspective, the point is still very much in play.

Not just the Mayacamas decision which was punted even further down the road …

… but everything we’re trying to do in charterland.

Not just in California.

The Biden administration’s proposed CSP regs a year ago was an attempt to make a national education CEQA law.

Just last week a new charter designed to serve special needs kids was denied in Atlanta, with the district citing as its number one reason for denial its own financial considerations, the exact same arguments that have now been made legal in California and are being used against the Mayacamas school.

The challenge, as far as I see it, is not to win over the people with pickleball courts in their own backyards.

They’re just not winnable.

But they find themselves, fortunately, in the ultimate pickle.

The pickle of being on the wrong side of history.

Because those around them?

Those who for decades have been siding with the pickleballers at their own expense?

Those who have no skin in the game but simply want what is clearly best for our society?

Ultimately, those people know. Or they can be helped to see:

The sound of students coming together is not noise pollution.

It’s in fact the sound upon which the future of our society depends.

The sound of learning. Of growing. Of building. Of making something new.

Some might even call it music.

The true noise pollution is the din of status quo defenders saying the most ridiculous things in hopes of preventing students from accessing new opportunities to learn.

Thousands of kids denied a chance to attend Berkeley and USC.

And millions of younger ones across the United States denied something similarly better in K-12.

And it’s up to us to make as loud as possible the self-serving thwacks that echo across communities most in need of new music.

Which we do by simply pushing on.

Standing in line to be the first to support schools like Mayacamas.

And proposing many new Mayacamases ourselves.

Not thinking that we will prevail in every situation in the short term. But knowing that we’re pushing toward a collective yes that’s a coming to backyards in communities across the nation.

It’s some of the most noble work happening in society today.

The work of CharterFolk and our equivalents in many other realms.

Like Jerry Brown himself.

Members of the Public #1.