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Looking back on the history of charter schools in CA

California State Capitol in Sacramento.
California State Capitol in Sacramento.
Mathieu Thouvenin (Flickr Creative Commons)

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the charter school movement.

The first charter school law passed in Minnesota in 1991. California followed suit the next year, thanks in no small part to former California State Senator Gary K. Hart.

Sen. Hart was a teacher before he became a politician. He chaired California's Senate Education Committee from 1983 until his retirement in 1994.

He joined Take Two to discuss the origins of the charter school movement in California.


On the need for charter schools in California

"There was a lot of dissension, a lack of enthusiasm for what was going on in the schools. Too many laws, too much bureaucracy. And those kinds of concerns when I was in the legislature we would hear time and time again, so we were struggling to figure out ways that we could try to improve the system to respond to some of these concerns."

On how he sold the idea for a charter school law

"The way I explained it was that it was like having a great deal more freedom in a public school. But unlike a private school which has an enormous amount of freedom, there would be certain steps that you couldn't cross over. Those would be that you couldn't charge tuition, you couldn't discriminate, you couldn't teach religion for sectarian purposes. But with those exceptions, what we were attempting to do was to give local communities much greater freedom as to how they went about establishing their educational goals and objectives and how they went about accomplishing those objectives."

On why the charter school movement has taken off so strongly

"I think in part, many people continue to be dissatisfied with the existing traditional public schools and they have seen that there are many charter schools that seem to be working well, and there's a different way to go. I think also there are organizations, particularly some foundations, that have provided start up funds to many charter schools."

On charter schools that have failed

"There have been failures of charters schools... and the issues that you raised [about] disruption for parents as schools have to relocate, and sometimes schools close down, those are real challenges that exist. So I have never viewed charters as a panacea, as a magic bullet. I don't think that charter status is appropriate for all students and all communities, but I think it's an important option. I think there have been some valuable lessons that have been learned about some of the things that charter schools do that have some merit that other traditional public schools ought to take a careful look at."

Series: Good Schools

As part of its Good Schools series, Take Two looks at the education landscape in the Los Angeles area. That includes its public schools, magnets, charters, private institutions and dual-language programs. You’ll hear from parents, academics, teachers, kids and even a couple of TV show producers.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Facebook, or tweet us @Take Two and @KPCC with the hashtag #goodschools.