By Jeff Rice | Special to The Observer

(OPINION) – Learning loss from the pandemic is top of mind. A recent report from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed that 80% of parents are concerned that students in lower-income areas and English language learners are especially likely to fall behind academically. This is particularly true for Black parents. 

Unfortunately, some of the very students who are seeking alternative education programs to either catch up or better meet their needs are being ignored and discriminated against by some California lawmakers.

A bill moving through the California Legislature — AB 1316 — will be voted on by the Assembly Appropriations by May 20. This legislation is being positioned as charter school reform, but in reality, it is an 80+ page bill covering over 40 sections of law with harmful measures that will impact hundreds of thousands of students who attend non-classroom based public charter schools. 

Many parents and students choose alternative learning options because the traditional school model has not worked for them. Some need a different academic structure in order to learn. Others were bullied and are happier and healthier in a personalized learning program. Many other children – including those with moderate to severe special needs — need an education program tailored to their individual needs. 

The author of the bill, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, claims that in-person education serves students best. But not all Black parents agree.  An article on NPR showed how for some Black students remote learning has offered a chance to thrive

Carl Pinkston, operation director for the Sacramento-based Black Parallel School Board, was quoted in a recent PoliticoPro article saying “Black families especially are worried about what happens once school is back in session. Will the extra resources offered in the pandemic, like devices and Wi-Fi, now disappear? Will suspensions get worse as kids reel from trauma and isolation? Will students of color fall through the cracks, and will the achievement gap widen even further?”

Research-based evidence clearly shows that some students – many of whom are Black – do not thrive in a classroom-only setting. Yet many politicians in Sacramento continue to think that all students should be forced to learn the same way.   

Some of the most damaging parts of AB 1316 are the geographic limits it places on who can attend non-classroom based public charter schools. Under the bill, if you live in a different county from where a non-classroom based public charter school (NCB) is authorized you will have to disenroll starting in the 2021-22 school year. Also, students who attend independent study or distance learning programs at a NCB will receive lower levels of state funding than their peers attending similar programs at district or county run schools. The bill also caps charter school enrollment for small school districts.

The genesis for these legislative attacks is based in part on past abuses by two bad actor non-classroom based public charter schools who are currently being penalized by the California legal system. 

Few would disagree that all public schools must adhere to high standards of integrity, accountability, compliance, and academic excellence. However, AB 1316 is not designed to address these issues equally or systemically. Instead, the bill picks winners and losers among public school students and directly targets families by restricting their right to equity and public school choice.

The timing of this political maneuver is particularly unseemly as the entire education system continues to struggle to return to normal from the unprecedented COVID pandemic. California public schools are doing their best under very challenging circumstances. This is not the time for political gamesmanship. In masquerading as a “solution,” AB 1316 cynically draws attention from honest legislative solutions and instead harms public school students who benefit from an alternative education model to succeed. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Rice is founder/director of the Association of Personalized Learning Schools and Services which represents 85 Personalized Learning public charter schools collectively serving more than 78,000 K-12 students who reside in 56 counties throughout California. APLUS+ member schools employ more than 2,500 credentialed teachers who provide student-centered education delivered through multiple learning settings.