Prop. Z’s Overlooked Charter School Promise

Prop. Z’s Overlooked Charter School Promise

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Students at Innovations Academy in Mission Valley, seen here in 2010, take their recess on a small area of grass and dirt behind the office building that their school is housed in.


While the heated debate about Proposition Z has focused on iPads and complex financial deals, it hasn’t covered what might be the most interesting aspect of the measure should it pass: San Diego could set a national precedent and see an explosion of new facilities for charter schools.

In fact, friends of charter schools have mobilized into some of the most enthusiastic backers of the measure. The political arm of the California Charter Schools Association has donated $100,000 to the campaign and supporters of the movement, like philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, are championing the initiative because of how far it’s going to help charters.

The amount of money Prop. Z will set aside for charter schools is unlike anything they’ve seen, anywhere.

“We’re not aware of any local communities which have done what San Diego is on the cusp of doing,” said Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

Prop. Z would raise property taxes by $60 for every $100,000 of property you own, according to the assessed value of that property, not the amount you could sell it for. So if the assessor values your property at $300,000, it would be an increase of $180 year.

It will allow the district to pull an estimated $2.8 billion in loans. The money will go to a number of things, but $350 million will go to charter schools, new and old. The district will also set up a special committee dominated by “representatives of the charter school community” to advise the school board on how to divvy out the money.

The district can only change the amount of money sent to charter school facilities if enrollment in charters changes. It’s not clear what happens if charter school enrollment surges or plunges.

“Should Proposition Z pass, it will be looked at nationally as a benchmark and a message that parents and communities and the general electorate want successful charter schools to grow and thrive,” Wallace said.

This was likely very attractive to Jacobs.

If you were to try to very simply explain Jacobs’ views on education, you’d say he wants High Tech Highs across the region so that everyone who wanted to go to one could. Right now, the lotteries for those charter schools make it difficult to get in.

Jacobs is fine with investing more tax dollars in education as long as it’s paired with the freedoms and incentives that fueled High Tech High’s success. But turning schools into High Tech High might be harder than just building a bunch of new ones.

I asked Jacobs, who also supports Voice of San Diego, what he thought about that summary of his views and he went a step further. And what he said helped me understand why he’d support investing in the San Diego Unified School District, even though he’s so unimpressed with its current governance.

Supporting Prop. Z could be about a longer-term goal.

“I am increasingly convinced that we should move most students from SDUSD to charter,” he wrote in an email.

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

I'm Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

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