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War Stories From the Charter School Movement

Reason's Lisa Snell interviews Gloria Romero and Dan Katzir about the state of charter schools in California.

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Building a network of successful charter schools isn't easy, especially in a state as wary of school choice as California. But Dan Katzir and Gloria Romero have transformed public education in the face of tough opposition from political party leaders, union bosses, and school administrators. Katzir and Romero discussed the challenges of school choice with Lisa Snell at Reason Weekend, part of a series of lectures held annually by Reason Foundation.

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Gloria Romero, a former California state senator and Democratic majority leader, says she's "gone rogue" on her own party. Starting her own charter school, Scholarship Prep, required challenging the prevailing wisdom of party bosses, who tried to expel her from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

But Romero wouldn't be silenced. "Even if the pope were to tell me to stop talking about reproductive rights," she said, "I wouldn't, having grown up a Catholic, I wouldn't have listened to him, either."

Romero's determination comes from having watched public schools repeatedly fail poor and immigrant students. She watched the bureaucracy in Sacramento prioritize pay, perks, and pensions over student achievement. "Our schools are more of a public works program than a public education program," she says. "We've got to blow the system up."

On the other side of the panel sits Dan Katzir. Katzir is president and CEO of The Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, a network of 28 high-performing Los Angeles charter schools.

Opposition to school choice is baked into California's education system from the beginning. "You can't open a public school unless someone authorizes you," Katzir warns. "You essentially have to go to the monopoly provider and ask permission to compete against them."

Getting a charter school proposal authorized by the state is the first challenge of many. Then, says Katzir, "you sign a five-year contract with the devil. Because over those five years they have oversight and regulatory responsibility for you. Which in bureaucrat-ese means we are going to make your life as miserable as possible, because we now control you."

Despite formidable politcal challenges, California boasts some of the most successful charter schools in the nation. Katzir and Romero show how transformative change is possible, even against the most powerful and entrenched state bureaucracies.

Edited by Alex Manning. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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