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Assembly Passes Bill Giving Local School Districts Power To Deny Funds For Home Schooling

LAFAYETTE (KPIX 5) -- A major fight is brewing in Sacramento over the effect charter schools are having on public education.  And caught up in that battle are people who educate their kids at home.

On Tuesday afternoon, the State Assembly passed  AB 1505, which says new charter schools can only be created with the approval of the local public school district. That bill now goes on to the State Senate.

Wild Oak is an educational enrichment program operating out of a Girl Scout camp in Briones Regional Park above Lafayette. The students are being home schooled, but their parents send them there a few days a week for learning and socialization.

Tuesday's lesson was about team collaboration as the older kids invented an obstacle course through the park for the little ones.

"This environment here at Wild Oak is amazing!" said parent Graciela Garcia. "They get to learn outside in nature…math, humanities, science…"

"But most of the home-schoolers are actually signed up as part of a charter school and because of that, the state provides from 1,500 to 3,000 dollars per year to help parents pay for educational opportunities like Wild Oak."

Critics like retired Oakland teacher Renee Swaine say charters siphon off state funds, but are exempt from the requirements that strain public schools like special education, union contracts and inclusion mandates.

"They're kind of an entity that has a lot of protections and privileges," Swaine said. "So it's not a level playing field.  And that's what a lot of us say: f you're going to use state money then the rules should be equal."

Teacher's unions and local school districts are pushing hard in Sacramento to rein in charter schools. Kate Newkirk, the business manager for Wild Oak, is concerned that funding could be eliminated.

"I'm absolutely worried," Newkirk said. "I don't know that we'll have a program in a year, frankly.  Our program may dissolve and not be able to survive."

Opponents say charter schools are taking away from the public school system. But advocates argue that if people were happy with that system, charter schools wouldn't even exist.

"People were looking for other options and so charters became popular," Newkirk said. "And so now, it feels like there's not enough funds and so the two groups are fighting with each other. And it's very sad to see because it's parents against parents."

Regardless of what the government decides, Newkirk says she doubts that home-schooling parents would ever send their kids back to the public education system.

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