LAUSD Would Harm Thousands of Kids With Charter Denials

At her first community town hall in March, LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King called for making peace with charters, saying “we are all LA Unified school students,” and “it’s not us versus them.”

Then in July, she held a “promising practices forum” that left charter leaders with the impression that a new era of cooperation between the district and charters had ensued.

Speak UP fully supports efforts to bridge the manufactured divide that places parents into camps according to the type of school their kids attend, often pitting them against one another.

But clearly, King’s talk of a new era was just that – all talk.

Anyone needing evidence of the vast chasm between the district’s rhetoric and reality need look no further than LAUSD’s unprecedented number of charter denial recommendations that will be voted on by the LAUSD board Tuesday night.

Six schools serving 6,730 students are recommended to have their charters revoked, including LA’s top-ranked charter high school, while three other schools are being denied by staff their requests for revisions affecting 2,060 students.

All of the schools recommended for denial are outperforming nearby district schools, according to LA School Report, and none of the reasons for denial are based on student outcomes.

This proves that, once again, the best interests of students are not driving district decisions. If the board votes to deny the charter renewals, the schools may ultimately close, and students – the vast majority of whom are low-income kids – could be forced back to underperforming district schools, where they will receive a sub-par education.

Speak UP members have kids attending all kinds of schools – neighborhood schools, charters, magnets, pilots, language immersion schools, preschools and private schools. We are united by the guiding principle that education policy decisions should be student-centered, equitable and transparent, and that parents should have a choice of quality schools for our kids.

Regardless of the kind of schools our kids attend, it is obvious that LAUSD’s decisions are not being made with the best interests of kids top of mind.

These denial recommendations are unprecedented, and if supported by members of the board, will reduce the number of quality school choices for our kids and unnecessarily disrupt the lives of thousands of children and families.

There's no question the political climate has shifted dramatically over the past year. Last year 100 percent of charter renewals and material revisions were approved. In fact, there are more renewal and material revision denial recommendations on the agenda of this single board meeting than there have been over the last five years combined.

Far from making peace with charters, it appears that LAUSD has declared an all-out war on school choice – with kids as the collateral damage. Given the success of the schools being recommended for denial, LAUSD’s main interest seems to be eliminating its competition for enrollment.

Two of the three Magnolia Science Academy Schools recommended for charter renewal denial were ranked in April by U.S. News & World Report in the top 100 high schools in California. Between 2011 and 2015, the three Magnolia schools sent 92 percent of its graduates to college and 95 percent of its seniors completed A-G college readiness standards — numbers that far outperform district averages.

A denial would punish low-income students who are clearly succeeding in Magnolia schools for past teacher hiring practices that the current chief executive ended.

LAUSD staff is also recommending denial of Citizens of the World Mar Vista’s material revision to add grades 6-8, in part because it said the school had submitted too many material revisions in the past – including one to add a lottery preference for low-income families.

The school ranks in the top 10 percent of district schools and is outperforming area district schools by 16 percentage points in English and 23 percentage points in math. 

One school, WISH charter, resolved what was a patently absurd denial recommendation of its petition to merge its elementary and middle school for reasons such as an unauthorized food warmer, according to the LAUSD staff report. WISH is a national model of an inclusive school whose population includes severely disabled children.

Closing a school is a serious decision, and the California Department of Education clearly states that the top priority when considering a charter renewal is “improved pupil academic achievement.”  

LAUSD is doing the exact opposite of what the law calls for it to do. The message from LAUSD is clear: Successful charters will be targeted in an attempt to force kids back to district schools that do not perform as well.

These decisions are obviously driven by LAUSD’s desperate financial situation. LAUSD is willing to harm kids in order to help resolve its financial crisis – a crisis created in part by the fiscally unsound decision to make a 22 percent increase in district employees as enrollment has declined, as well as unfunded teacher pension liabilities.

Charter leaders are not taking this lying down. A 17-member committee of charter public school leaders and 64 charter organizations, representing 196 public schools serving 94,595 students in Los Angeles, sent a letter Monday to the LAUSD board in protest:

These recommended denials and revocations threaten the basic values and expectations that we’ve held onto as partners with the District, even in the most challenging times: accountability and collaboration based on consistency, transparency, and a focus on student outcomes,” the letter said.

“Most importantly, these recommended denials and revocations threaten the futures of thousands of students who have sought out these schools for an unassailable reason: they provide an education that meets their unique needs. We urge you, the Board, to make decisions based first and foremost on the interests of students and families, an approach that enabled you to authorize one of the strongest and most respected charter school sectors in the nation. We urge you to overturn the denial recommendations of our peers.”

Parents who support equity, transparency and having a choice of quality schools should not take this lying down, either. We urge our members to speak up and call LAUSD board members to protest these denial recommendations. Tell them to put your kids’ interests above all else.

Steve Zimmer, District 4
 213-241-6387

George McKenna, District 1
 (213) 241-6382

Mónica García, District 2
 (213) 241-6180

Scott Schmerelson, District 3
 (213) 241-8333

Ref Rodriguez, District 5
(213) 241-5555

Mónica Ratliff, District 6
 (213) 241-6388

Richard Vladovic, District 7
(213) 241-6385