BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The issue of opening charter schools has been at the forefront of the education debate in Kern County for years, but it’s still a fairly new concept that leaves people on both sids of the aisle at odds.
Willie J. Frink College Prep is hoping to open as a charter school in the Panama Buena Vista Union School District. Those behind the creation of the new school say their goal is to provide Black students with schooling by teachers who look like them.
“We are also here for all students of color and all the lowest performing students,” said Arleana Walter, the founder of Willie J. Frink College Prep. “Low performing students normally need a smaller environment in which to learn. That is what we’re going to offer them.”
According to the California Charter Schools Association, more Black students attend public charter schools than traditional public schools. From 2008 to 2017, statewide enrollment of Black students at charter schools has increased by more than 15,000, with more than 48,000 enrolled in 2017.
CCSA data also shows across the state, Black charter students are completing required work at a higher rate than their traditional school peers. With 15% for Black students in the charter school system, versus 43% for Black students.
Not everyone agrees that charter schools help students of color. Ashley De La Rosa, Education Policy Director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, says she believes these schools do not benefit all students in the community.
“We know that charter schools are usually application-based, and so different processes that don’t make it as easy for students of color, for low-income students, for historically marginalized students to access the programs that they have,” said De La Rosa.
Data from the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project shows Black students are more likely to experience racial isolation at charter schools than any other minority group. 70 percent of Black students in charter schools are segregated, compared to 35 percent at traditional public schools.
While the data varies, Waller says the goal of her institution is to provide a cultural learning environment for those who need it most.
“We are here to partner with the school district and say, ‘Allow us to help you with the lowest performing subgroup,’” said Waller. “Who is the lowest performing subgroup? African Americans. We are unapologetic about it, and we are intentional about it, because it is high time that someone is bold enough to partner with the district to get this done.”
Waller says the school plans to officially submit their petition to the district in October. If approved, they will start next year with just kindergarten through second grade and grow each year.