Essay: Governor’s proposal to limit age of charter school students closes a door to those in need
By Jerry Yamashita
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently released May budget revision calls for an age cap on charter schools that would exclude students 27 or older. This oddly specific and targeted proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would eliminate more than 30 charter schools in California that serve about 10,000 adult learners, including 3,000 in the Sacramento area.
This would not only be a huge blow to our most vulnerable populations, but would also result in collateral damage to our state’s economy.
We at Highlands Community Charter School in Sacramento provide access to education, technology, communication and employment to some folks who need it most. This is a unique privilege, and not one that we or our students take for granted. Many of our students know exactly what it’s like to not have access to education, resources or even just someone to support them.
Patricia, a former student of mine, rode Regional Transit an hour each way, dropping her daughters off at school along the way, so that she could pursue her education. Despite homelessness and a history with the criminal justice system, she graduated in 2018 and was eventually able to create opportunities for herself that are helping to foster generational change.
But her story may have been so much different if not for programs like ours. In just a few days, opportunities for folks like Patricia could disappear.
Is it too late for the 70% of our students who are women with children? Or the 98% who qualify for free or reduced lunches? Or the 30% who are African American? Or the 85% non-native speakers who are dedicated to learning English every day? How about the 90% who would flat-out be denied access just because they are 27 or older? Is it too late for them?
“Let’s stop arguing about when, where and how our students should learn and get back to the real issue: What is working for our students?”
Adult-serving charter schools are not fly-by-night operations. Highlands operates under our authorizing school district, Twin Rivers Unified; our accrediting body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges; and under federal guidelines set out by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
We pride ourselves on harnessing an innovative spirit to create opportunities every day for our students. Consider that while many adult-serving programs across the state are facing budget shortfalls and closures, we have successfully incorporated digital literacy across courses and put Chromebooks into the hands of every student who needs one. We do this because we know that three out of four new jobs in the Sacramento region require digital skills. How many agencies can claim the same success?
It’s time to understand that hard work, innovation and success are not the enemies. Let’s stop arguing about when, where and how our students should learn and get back to the real issue: What is working for our students?
What we do works and the data will bear this out. To date, 415 students who started in English Language Development classes were promoted into high school. And since 2015, 491 students and counting have earned their high school diplomas at Highlands Should there be an age cap on achievement?
Let’s not let the status quo dictate our future. Especially in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we need to look for solutions, not impose restrictions due to something as arbitrary as age.
Is it ever too late to learn? As a lifelong learner, that concept is at odds with my very being. We can do better, California. We can lead. And we can learn together, regardless of age.