A Parent's Eye View of State Politics: Charter parent Lanie Holmer testifies before the CA Assembly
May 24, 2012
On a Monday evening in late April, Lanie Holmer, a parent at Westlake Charter School in Sacramento got an urgent email from the school's Executive Director Bob Capp asking parents to call legislators about the state budget. An Assembly Committee would be debating important proposals about charter school funding the very next day. Lanie regularly attended school meetings and knew first-hand how California's funding structure and budget cuts to schools were hurting her children's school. Not only do charter schools receive less funding overall, but unlike school districts, charter schools can't take out low-interest loans to help them through deferrals. Right now, the state is delaying over 30% of payments due to schools into the next year. Imagine if your employer told you to keep doing your work, but you wouldn't receive a paycheck for part of it until next year!
She asked what she could do that make a difference and the director said: "Come with us to the hearing!" Lanie shares what it was like as a parent to testify before an Assembly committee.
I've only been to the capitol building twice and only as a tourist. I walked into the building and the first thing I saw was a huge throng of people and I was hoping they weren't there for the same meeting! I managed to find the committee room and sat down. They hadn't reached our item on the agenda yet, so I read over the materials and thought about what I would say.
Our school is fiscally responsible and has healthy reserves. It's that we're not getting our money due to the deferrals. All public schools are going through this. What's unique to charters is that we don't have the same means to bridge that shortfall as other schools do and we also receive less funding overall. It's just not fair. Many of the Governor's budget proposals to address this made a lot of sense.
I knew I had to say something. I'm the voice for my child and my school and if I don't, only the voices on the other side of the issues would be heard. I wanted to support our school.
I'm a founding parent at Westlake Charter, which opened in 2005. We have an emphasis on global awareness and connecting children to the world. We have amazing teachers and the highest test scores in our district. As parents, we volunteer as much as we can.
I've completed about 150 volunteer hours so far this year and I'm not the only one. Many parents have done even more. Our teachers are dedicated to the success of our students. We believe in the school and want it to do well, but none of that can overcome the fact that there's no money in our coffers due to the deferrals. We work really hard with what we've got, but there's only so much that parent volunteers can do.
As I watched the meeting, what was interesting is that the committee chair was the only committee member there for the entire meeting. I didn't know the legislators could go in and out throughout the meeting! When they called for public comment, about 20 people stood up. Everyone that spoke was a director, a principal, school board member, or they represented the school districts, as well as a representative from the county treasurer. They all had a better grasp and understanding of the issues and laws than I did. Aside from the representatives from our school board and our business office, who are also parents at the school, there weren't any other parents at this meeting and I wasn't sure that I would have much to offer.
When I stood up and said, "I'm just a parent," I really felt the energy in the room change, that the members of the committee were actually listening to me. That made the three hours in that meeting worth it - at least they listened to what I had to say and I wasn't just another person in the line. They listened to me because I was a parent.
I'm glad I showed up and wished other parents could have come, but understood that the late notice made it difficult. I'm glad I was there to be a parent voice. Even if you can't show up, call and email. Otherwise, they won't hear us. We have to speak up; these are our kids.