Why Elections Matter: the End of Common Enrollment in Oakland

In Oakland, school board elections have become big business. Since 2012, billionaire backed SuperPACs have spent nearly $2 million to elect candidates to rubber stamp the school privatization policies that they are pushing. Common enrollment, school closures, portfolio “community of schools” policies, and charter school expansion have all accelerated since 2012 and have put Oakland’s public schools and the primarily Black, Brown and low income students they serve at risk. This is all part of a well-funded privatization movement which harms our most vulnerable students by literally pushing them out of classrooms and into closets

In 2020, families, teachers and grassroots organizations came together and won 3 of the 4 open School Board seats, and last night we had our first real evidence of how important local elections are, with the passage of the Enrollment Stabilization policy by a narrow margin1. This policy will do the following:

  1. Support schools with marketing and outreach, including a district level designated employee and possible stipends for parents at low income schools;  
  2. Allow school sites to create their own enrollment stabilization plan; 
  3. Encourage school board members to celebrate and support their district schools; 
  4. Direct the superintendent and staff to encourage parents from charter or private schools that are closing to enroll in OUSD; 
  5. Make the enrollment process more accessible in a variety of ways; and
  6. Prohibit the use of OUSD resources to market or support competing schools such as charter or private schools. OUSD will no longer share the School Finder tool with charter schools, nor will they be listed on our enrollment map, the enrollment office will not offer competing school information to families, competing schools cannot come to district enrollment fairs, etc.

This policy eliminates the shared enrollment information system created by former Superintendent Antwan Wilson, with funding from local privatization organizations GO Public Schools (which also funds school board elections through its SuperPAC) and Educate78. In 2015, Superintendent Wilson asked the OUSD school board to adopt a “common enrollment” system where district and charter schools would be included together in one electronic enrollment platform. Parents United worked with parents and teachers to push back on the proposal, which is part of the “Portfolio Playbook” used to undermine public schools nationwide. Parents and teachers held house parties with school board members and ran a public information campaign, and ultimately the Board did not approve Common Enrollment in Oakland. Although Superintendent Wilson lost the common enrollment fight, he effectively backdoored the policy into existence by unilaterally including charters side by side with district schools in our school enrollment guide and electronic finder tool. The adoption of this Enrollment Stabilization policy last night undoes the harm of common enrollment and is one of the reasons why school board elections are so critical to the success of neighborhood public schools that serve all students.

Common Enrollment House parties January 2016

ALL of the comments against the policy change last night were couched in the incorrect assumption that only charter schools are quality schools. The data shows that is not true, but more importantly it exposes the lie that we are just one happy district/charter “community of schools” and that families are making individual decisions based on what is best for their child — coming in and out of the district and charter systems as needed. The truth is, charter schools generally market themselves as being better than district schools and when it comes time to move from one grade span to another, this narrative of “district schools are bad” means only 9% of charter students enroll in a district school for the next grade level2

Hands on learning at a quality neighborhood district school

That is not an accident. The charter industry guides students and families to choose another charter school for middle or high school rather than exploring public school options. Charter schools want access to the district’s enrollment system (particularly at the elementary level), but they don’t otherwise support the public school system. They blur the lines between public schools and “tuition free public charter schools” when it suits them, but every single commenter against the Enrollment Stabilization policy accused OUSD of trying to “hide” the quality options (or charter schools) and force families to choose substandard (or district) schools. Truth is, families will still be able to get the information they need to enroll their student in either a district school or a charter school as they choose, and the charter school industry will still repeat the lie that charter schools are inherently better than district schools. The big difference in enrollment will be at the elementary level, and that is why the charter school industry and privatization organizations are so upset about the loss of Common Enrollment in Oakland. 

  1. The policy passed 4/28/2021 by a margin of 4 ayes (Directors Gonzales, Davis, Williams, Hutchinson), 1 nay (Director Thompson) and 3 abstentions (Student Director Ramos and Directors Eng and Yee)
  2. www.ousddata.org

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