It was a dark day Tuesday for supporters of school choice. Despite thousands of parents, students and educators rallying against a resolution calling on the state to impose a charter moratorium, LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia stunned her longtime supporters with a yes vote, guaranteeing its passage.
The resolution was part of a backroom deal that Superintendent Austin Beutner and some board members made with UTLA to end its week-long strike. Only Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) stood up for the rights of kids and voted no.
“We’re talking about telling families living in poverty that…they’re out of luck because they don’t have the options that families like mine had,” Melvoin said. “That’s about the least progressive thing I can imagine. Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about a moratorium on private schools, which educate 10 percent of the city’s students, and we’re not talking about limiting people’s ability to buy homes in more affluent neighborhoods or to go to magnet schools—many of which are explicitly creaming based on being gifted.”
The resolution calls on the state to impose a temporary ban on new charter schools while their impact on the district is studied. Its chief sponsor, Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7), amended his resolution Tuesday to place an 8-to-10-month time limit on the moratorium, which won’t be enacted unless the state legislature passes it and the governor signs it.
Given the time it takes for legislation to cook, it’s unlikely any moratorium would go into effect before next January. So the LAUSD Board could actually see a reverse effect: a flood of new charter petitions coming before the board this year in a rush to beat the ban.
“I feel like we were sacrificed in order to get teachers back to the classroom,” said Speak UP parent Roxann Nazario, who presented hundreds of parent petitions to the Board opposing the resolution. “We should not be used as bargaining chips in a backroom deal. That is not putting kids first.”
With tears flowing, Nazario called out Vladovic specifically. “You were the one who told me charter parents should not feel like they like have a Scarlet A on their chest,” she said. “Well, do you think this helps? What are you doing to bring us together now?”
Melvoin also spoke out against the “unfair vilification” of charter families and called for the board to conduct a study first, before enacting a policy to limit the number of new schools. The fate of the resolution was uncertain until Garcia spoke.
Board member Kelly Gonez (BD6) had attempted to strike a compromise and introduced an amendment for a less onerous local study and shorter voluntary pause on new charter petitions. Melvoin and Garcia both voted for the compromise, but Vladovic said it violated the deal made with UTLA, and it fell short of the four votes needed. Gonez ultimately backed the Vladovic resolution after it became clear that it would pass anyway.
Just hours after standing on stage in front of a crowd of charter families, Garcia made a rambling speech to the Board emphasizing how much she had supported charter schools in the past before dropping a bomb: “I’m going to stand by this resolution.”
Longtime supporters were shocked and betrayed. “Unbelievably wrong thing to do,” tweeted former California State Senator Gloria Romero, who founded a charter school. “She has been my hero. I’m at a loss to understand why.”
It was clear that Garcia was a key part of the potentially illegal deal that Beutner had crafted a week ago to end the strike. Beutner said in a press release Tuesday that the resolution was “considered as part of the overall agreement with UTLA,” even though charter schools were not a party to the UTLA negotiation. Neither were parents or kids. Charter supporters are expected to investigate legal options for being dragged into the negotiations against their will.
In the meantime, it’s not even clear that Beutner will be able to stave off district insolvency after cutting a deal with UTLA that the district clearly cannot afford. Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees LAUSD's budget, wrote a letter to LAUSD saying the new UTLA contract is "not sustainable." LACOE is ordering cuts within 45 days to correct a $500 million deficit that LAUSD projects it will encounter in 2021-22 as a result of this deal.
Paying for the deal hinges in large part on the governor’s new budget passing through the legislature. Funds will also be diverted from school sites to help pay for UTLA’s demands. Melvoin said it was up to the board to make the hard decisions needed to make the contract sustainable.
But the financial implications of the contract were largely overshadowed by the charter moratorium resolution, which dominated debate. Because LAUSD was able to offer so little in the way of tangible gains after the UTLA strike, UTLA had demanded the anti-charter resolution in an attempt to appease its base.
“We’re blaming others for our financial problems, without getting our own house in order,” Melvoin said. “There are a lot of things I’d like to see a moratorium on, but with all due respect to my colleagues, they were just not addressed in this resolution…I’d like to see a moratorium on low-performing schools.”