Transgender Mom Justine Gonzalez: A Charter Ban Would Harm Families Like Mine

This blog was originally published by Medium. We are reprinting it with the permission of the author.

By Justine Gonzalez

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When my daughter’s LAUSD-run preschool program closed during the teachers strike, it was a difficult juggle for me as a working parent. But we made it work and visited her teachers on the picket line to show support for their demands for higher pay, lower class sizes, more nurses, librarians and counselors.

A week after standing with L.A.’s teachers, though, I’m wondering, will they also stand with me? I was stunned to learn that one condition UTLA demanded in exchange for ending the strike was for the LAUSD school Board to vote on a resolution this Tuesday asking the state to place a moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles.

As a transgender, Afro-Latina mother to a daughter entering kindergarten next year, finding the right school where she will feel safe and nurtured is no simple matter. One size does not fit all, especially for a family like ours. So like many of my neighbors, I’m looking at all of my options. That includes applying to several progressive and high-performing nonprofit public charter schools.

There’s a good chance that I, like thousands of parents in Los Angeles, will wind up on a waitlist wishing that there more seats or one more good option available. A moratorium won’t help families like mine, who don’t happen to be fortunate enough to live in a zip code with a high-performing neighborhood school or the means to attend a private school.

A charter ban won’t help my daughter, either. When it comes to academics, there is a disturbing achievement gap in LAUSD schools between white and black children. Many LAUSD schools are failing to prepare low-income kids of color to succeed in college. I know because I experienced it myself.

Despite working as a staffer for Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti, advising them on LGBTQ issues, and serving as President of the Human Relations Commission, I nevertheless carried shame for years that I did not finish college.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I, like the majority of LAUSD graduates, was not prepared by my LAUSD schools to succeed. Only 38 percent of LAUSD graduates are considered college ready, and many students are forced to take remedial classes in college just to catch up. Fewer than one-third of Los Angeles Unified students met state standards in math last year. For low-income African American children, the numbers are even worse: Only 16 percent of LAUSD students are performing at grade level in math.

Given these grim statistics, can you blame a parent like me for looking at other options?

It’s unfortunate that a historic strike, a historic demonstration of the courage of our teachers and families, was used to advance an anti-school choice agenda and to unfairly demonize charter schools, which are independently managed and given more freedom and autonomy from the massive LAUSD bureaucracy to innovate and help kids thrive. I have neighbors whose kids’ lives were transformed after moving from LAUSD schools to a charter. It’s so important to listen to the stories of these families.

Charters are a convenient scapegoat for a district whose bloated bureaucracy is legendary and whose rising retiree pension and healthcare costs are its biggest financial drain.

When you put the rhetoric aside, it’s hard not to see enormous hypocrisy in affluent progressives who send their children to non-union private schools or who buy admission into the best neighborhood schools with multi-million dollar homes -- but then rail against public charter schools.

Please don’t take away choices from those of us who are not as privileged. For many diverse families and kids of color, charter schools are sometimes their best option for obtaining the high quality education they deserve.

— Justine Gonzalez, former President of the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, was a candidate for LAUSD Board Of Education in District 5 and was recently elected to serve as an Assembly Delegate to the California Democratic Party.

Please sign Speak UP’s petition calling on the LAUSD Board to VOTE NO on the charter ban.